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Chapter 3

PSYB32H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 3: Animacy, Habituation, Proprioception


Department
Psychology
Course Code
PSYB32H3
Professor
Letergesse
Chapter
3

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Chapter 3- Animated / inanimated distinction
Relationship between social and non-social cognition
I argued that infants are born with innate domains that contain representations about people, as well as particular
principles on how to interact with them. If that is true, then it follows that infants must have different domains that
contain representations of physical objects. That infants have specific domains for interacting with people and
objects should not be surprising. This evidence shows that infant discriminations of people and inanimate agents
runs deeper and does not depend purely on superficial physical phenomena.
Definition of the animate/inanimate distinction
They noted that although people and objects are similar in that both have physical properties (size and shape), the
two classes are different because only people communicate, grow and reproduce, move independently, have
feelings, intentions, and thoughts. Not only do people and objects have different properties, but they are perceived
differently. When looking at people, we may initially notice their appearance and their behavior, but we tend to
focus primarily on their mental states such as emotions and intentions. Objects do not have inner states and
therefore we would only pay attention to the physical characteristics of objects and their functions. As a
consequence of these differences, adults interact differently with the two classes. They communicate with people
but act on objects. Relationships with people are complex, involving emotions and social rules. These emotions
can be strong and may enhance or interfere with subsequent cognitive processes. The emotions aroused when
interacting with physical objects are usually less intense, and are the result of whether one is successful or not at
accomplishing a task.
Theoretical perspectives on the animate/inanimate distinction
Because the ability to differentiate people from other things is foundational for human development, theorists as
diverse as Piaget, Rheingold, Watson, Bruner, and Trevarthen have described in detail how infants come to
distinguish people from things. the innate representations infants have of people allow them to identify people as
similar to the self, with emotions and intentions, but not with complex biological processes such as the ideas that
people grow and reproduce. These concepts are being constructed with age.
Piaget’s view on the animate/inanimate distinction (animism)
Because infants have no initial cognitive structures (no innate knowledge), infants at birth are neither social nor
cognitive creatures. They gradually learn to differentiate between self, other people, and inanimate objects during
the first two years of life, at which time they develop expectations about the behavior of people and recognize that
people have intentions. Thus, the traditional Piagetian assumption proposes that an understanding of the social and
physical world needs to be constructed through acting on it during the infancy period. Consequently, prior to the
concrete operational stage, infants confuse mental and physical events (animism) and they do not differentiate
between external and internal states (e.g. talking and thinking). New research has shown that even preschoolers
can distinguish between the mental and the physical when verbal tasks are being used, and that infants as young as
18 months begin to treat human behavior as intentional and distinct from that of nonsocial objects when nonverbal
tasks are used. By having infants judge two-dimensional information rather than observing infants in social
situations one removes essential social cues. This makes the tasks more difficult for infants, and instead of
measuring social awareness, one measures the infants’ information processing capacities. Social interactionists
showed that when infants were observed with people and nonsocial objects in natural settings, a completely
different picture emerged. Already in the second month of life, infants treated people as social objects, smiling,
vocalizing, and imitating their actions, whereas they treat nonsocial objects as things to be looked at and goals for

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attempted reaching. Such differential responsiveness has also been found in infants with Down syndrome, at an
age when the infants had approximately the same mental age or level of perceptual cognitive sophistication as the
nondelayed infants. Infants as young as 5 weeks will get upset when people refrain from responding, but not when
physical objects remain immobile and they will imitate mouth opening and tongue protrusions modeled by people,
but they do not react this way to objects simulating these gestures . In addition, 3-month-old infants have different
relationships with people than with nonsocial objects. If people are responsive to infants, 3-month-old babies
become happy (i.e. coo, smile etc.) and take in subsequent information faster (i.e. habituate to a multimodal
stimulus) than if objects act contingently to infant actions. However, if people act in a random way, infants
become distressed and fail to habituate to subsequent cognitive tasks. In contrast, if nonsocial objects respond at
random to the infants’ actions, this does not upset the infants, and it does not seem to affect their subsequent
interactions with the external environment . Thus, even for very young infants, relationships with people evoke
more intense emotions than interactions with nonsocial objects, and only the relationships with people seem to
affect their motivation to learn.
Motion theorists
Many recent attempts to explain how the infant’s differential responsiveness to people and nonsocial objects
comes about have focused on movement. The authors list the type of motion that differentiates people from objects
into the following properties: (1) onset of motion (selfpropelled vs. caused motion), (2) line of trajectory (smooth
vs. irregular), (3) causal action (from a distance versus contact), (4) pattern of interaction (contingent vs.
noncontingent). Human movements contain most of these four characteristics, and although most theorists
emphasize one of the four characteristics over the other, it is understood that the pattern of human interactions is
contingent, is self-propelled, have irregular lines of trajectory and are more often caused from a distance.
Contingency analysis – Watson
Watson proposed that infants had to learn to differentiate between people and objects. He argued that infants were
born with an innate module, e.g. a contingency detection mechanism (CDM). During the first 3 months of life, the
CDM is preset to prefer perfect contingencies, which enables infants to differentiate between self and the external
environment (e.g. the infant puts head on pillow; infant touches mother, etc.). It is not until 3 months of life that
the CDM begins to prefer imperfect contingencies. If infants perceive imperfect contingencies between their
behavior and rewarding environmental responses, they smile and coo. Thus by 3 months of age, any contingent
response stimulus (social and nonsocial) will elicit attention and positive affect in infants. Watson showed that
infants can learn about contingencies involving nonsocial objects when in a controlled environment. They tested
whether infants would increase the movement of a leg, attached to a rotating mobile, in order to make it move.
They exposed 2-month-old infants to ten minutes of noncontingent mobile rotations on each of fourteen
consecutive days. When the infants were subsequently brought into the laboratory and allowed to control the
movements of the mobile they failed to learn the task (transfer effect). This was in contrast to the experimental
infants. Watson, infants use imperfect contingencies to separate people from objects, and because infants do not
prefer imperfect contingencies until 3 months of age, they do not differentially respond to people and objects until
that age. A more plausible hypothesis has been proposed by Dunham et al. (1989, p. 1494). In that study, 3-month-
old infants who had received a contingent reinforcement schedule where the experimenter vocalized and touched
the infant’s feet each time the baby vocalized responded with social behaviors (smiled and cooed), and on a
subsequent transfer task showed more initial interest and habituated quicker to a multimodal stimulus than infants
who had received non-contingent stimulation. The ‘‘use of social stimulation during the contingent/non-contingent
pretreatment phases of the paradigm may be of critical importance in the transfer effects that were obtained.’’ If by
3 months infants are more sensitive to contingent responding of people than of objects (when the reinforcement
schedule is controlled), then infant social behavior cannot be a generalized response to activity levels as suggested
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by Watson (1985). Rather the infants’ affective states may be the result of the dynamics of the communicative
exchanges infants have with their social partners. This has important implications for social and cognitive
development of infants because it suggests that certain social experiences can produce changes in 3-month-old
infants that generalize (transfer) to cognitive functioning. It can be expected that if experienced continuously,
inadequate interactive signals of either the infant or the caregiver could have long-term consequences for further
development. The responses of 3-month-old infants to persons and objects that interacted with the infants at two
levels of contingency were contrasted in two experiments. In Experiment 1, contingent responding of people and
objects was controlled. In Experiment 2, the facial/vocal dynamics were controlled as well as contingent
responding. In both experiments, contingent interaction had different effects on infants, depending on whether the
‘‘actor’’ was a person or an object. In addition, the contingency and person/object variables influenced infants’
states of attention to a nonsocial stimulus on subsequent transfer tasks. Specifically, infants who experienced
contingent interactions with people exhibited positive affect and exposed themselves to subsequent higher levels
of stimulation than infants who experienced non-contingent interactions with people. These infants exhibited
negative affective states and exposed themselves to very low levels of subsequent stimulation. In contrast, infants
who experienced contingent and non-contingent interactions with objects did not show such variation in emotional
expressions. Instead they produced primarily neutral facial expressions in all conditions and did not show very
high nor very low levels of interest for the multimodal stimulus on the subsequent transfer task. By responding
differentially to people and objects despite similar contingent movements and face-like features of both the person
and the object (a doll), infants indicated that they had rudimentary categories of the two classes that did not rely on
these features. Watson would perhaps explain the results by arguing that the perception of contingency initially
defines the category ‘social’ for infants, but that the history of contingency learning (variable social reinforcement
versus immediate nonsocial reinforcement) from birth to 3 months creates a difference in 3-month-old infants’
reactions to nonsocial objects. However, it is difficult to see how infants can form social and nonsocial categories
from birth to 3 months through a process of differential conditioning. Although by 3 months of age infants may
have had ample practice playing contingency games with people, it is likely that in the natural world infants would
have had little experience with objects to perceive and analyze ‘‘perfect and clear contingencies’’ given their
limited motor abilities (e.g. reaching and grasping) to manipulate and act on objects independently. Watson (1972,
p. 1087) himself states that during the first two to three months, the combination of slow response recovery and
short contingency memory prohibits the infant of becoming aware of contingencies between his behavior and its
stimulus effects in the physical environment.
Motion alone is not enough -Gelman
The results of the Legerstee study suggest that rather than having an innate ability to perceive contingencies,
infants have domain specific knowledge by which to recognize people and thus separate them from inanimate
objects. For instance, Gelman and Kaufman argued that infants are born with domain specific structures which
draw infants’ attention to the various details that distinguish animates from inanimates. The animate structures
specify that people (and other animates) are capable of selfgenerated movements and the inanimate structures
specify that objects need agents to move them. According to Gelman, infants interpret perceptual information from
both movement and external features when drawing conclusions about the animate/inanimate distinction.
However, even if infants are aware that animates can move by themselves and should look a certain way, it would
seem that in order to classify animates as human, they need to appreciate that humans act according to certain
social rules. Various authors view the ability to perceive intentions in others as a prerequisite to a conceptual
understanding of people. They argue that it allows for a clear differentiation between the social and the physical.
Rakison and Poulin-Dubois agree that in addition to various forms of movement, psychological features (goal-
directed vs. no aim) and an influence of mental states (intentional vs. accidental) are used by infants to make the
animate/inanimate distinction. the perception of movements or bodily acts that are ‘‘like me’’ has been provided as
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